Six decades into the space age, exploring the final frontier remains a difficult and dangerous proposition.
That basic truth was reinforced yesterday (Oct. 11) by the failure of a Russian Soyuz rocket during a crew launch toward the International Space Station (ISS).
Investigation - Incident - List - Problems
There will be an investigation into the incident, to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again. And because this is spaceflight, the list of potential problems is pretty long.
"We get lulled into a form of complacency when these things go off seemingly without a hitch on a regular basis," said John Logsdon, a professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at The George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C.
Result - Extreme - Care - Logsdon - Space
"But that's a result of extreme care, and that hasn't changed," Logsdon told Space.com. "This is not routine, and it requires diligence and focus throughout the process — manufacturing and launch readiness, launch preparation, and the actual conduct of the launch," Logsdon told Space.com. "It's still hard."
The difficulty stems in large part from the inhospitable environment of space and the incredible energy required to accelerate vehicles to spaceflight speeds. To reach Earth orbit, for example, spacecraft must travel at least 17,500 mph (28,160 km/h). A seemingly minor issue can quickly escalate into a catastrophe if it allows that energy to escape or propagate in an uncontrolled manner.
Disasters - NASA - Space - Shuttle - Program
Consider the two disasters suffered by NASA's space shuttle program during its 30 years of flight. On Jan. 28, 1986, unusually cold weather caused a rubber "O-ring" seal in one of the shuttle Challenger's solid rocket boosters to stiffen and fail. Hot gases escaped through the resulting breach, causing Challenger's huge external fuel tank to rupture. The shuttle broke apart just 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven crewmembers aboard.
On Feb. 1, 2003,...
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